Ravens-Steelers, After Delays, Ends with Pittsburgh Still Undefeated

Ravens-Steelers, After Delays, Ends with Pittsburgh Still Undefeated

Ravens-Steelers, After Delays, Ends with Pittsburgh Still Undefeated

Ravens-Steelers, After Delays, Ends with Pittsburgh Still Undefeated

It was a usual Wednesday afternoon television lineup, with Judge Judy on one channel arguing with a 19-year-old suing his mother after an altercation over the family air-conditioner. Other programming choices: TMZ Live dissecting a Taylor Swift video, Guy Fieri playing grocery games and Maury Povich being, you know, Maury.

But on NBC was the N.F.L.’s version of matinee theater — brought to viewers after three postponements and a six-day delay triggered by more than 20 positive coronavirus test results of Baltimore Ravens players and staff. Not surprisingly, despite a worthy battle, Baltimore lost to the Steelers, 19-14, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

The exceedingly rare N.F.L. midweek afternoon performance even included a halftime pep talk from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who offered a promise to fans in a televised interview: “Absent a medical issue, we’re going to play the games.”

About three hours earlier, the league revealed that 61 players and 95 other personnel had returned new positive coronavirus test results in the last half of November.

Signing off with a smile before the second-half kickoff, Goodell looked into the camera and said: “It’s a great game.”

An N.F.L. season unlike any other soldiered on. Despite the peculiar circumstances, which included a trio of Steelers also not in uniform because they were on the league’s Covid-19 reserve list, the teams played with an intensity that made for a competitive game. The artistic stylings, however, left plenty to be desired. But that will happen when a virus-stricken team like Baltimore is missing nine starting players, including the league’s reigning most valuable player, quarterback Lamar Jackson, and six other Pro Bowlers.

The Ravens, who had 10 consecutive days of positive test results, originally had been scheduled to play the Steelers in prime-time on Thanksgiving. The game was postponed to Sunday, then Tuesday and finally Wednesday, as new positive cases were confirmed.

“We kept getting hit with these gut punches and the players kept coming back the next day and the next day,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, whose team’s record fell to 6-5 after a 5-1 start to the season, said. “I’m proud of them — we wanted to play on Thursday, we wanted to play on Sunday, we wanted to play on Tuesday and Wednesday.”

Asked if his players ever lost faith in the league’s decision-making, Harbaugh replied: “No, I’m sure there’s questions. Everybody did their best. We didn’t bat a thousand, nobody can against this thing.”

Harbaugh also indicated that none of the Baltimore players who tested positive for the virus appeared to be seriously ill, although he added that the team would probably issue a more detailed statement later.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who played a voluminous if unspectacular game and completed 36 of 51 attempts for 266 yards with one touchdown pass and an interception, admitted there were challenges to weathering all the postponements and ongoing news developments about both teams in the last six days.

“The hardest thing about this week was probably the mental aspect of it,” said Roethlisberger, whose Steelers remained the N.F.L.’s only undefeated team with an 11-0 record. “It’s mentally draining to prepare for a game and then not know when it is and it keeps moving around. That’s the part that I’m most proud of the guys — mentally it wasn’t easy but we made it happen.”

In his interview during halftime, Goodell addressed several other pressing issues confronting the N.F.L. as cases of the virus have surged and interrupted team practices, thinned rosters and disrupted the typical functioning of franchises. Chief among those questions concerned the league’s willingness to continue with Wednesday’s game after the Ravens organization had a surfeit of positive test results.

“By having the delays a couple days that gave us the confidence that we understood where the virus was coming from, how it was continuing to spread and that we were in the last stage of that,” Goodell said. “And be comfortable that the game could be played safely.”

Mike Tirico, who called the game for NBC, asked Goodell why Sunday’s game involving the Denver Broncos and the New Orleans Saints was not delayed despite Denver losing four quarterbacks to the league’s virus protocols.

“We want to make sure that we’re preventing the spread of the virus,” Goodell answered. “And that’s why when we see high-risk close contact like we had in Denver, regardless of the position group, we’re going to make sure that those players aren’t in a position where they can affect others.”

Lastly, when Goodell was asked if the N.F.L. was considering putting teams in a bubble for the postseason, he replied: “We would consider further isolations to reduce the risk for all of our personnel so that they’re not exposed to the virus and bring it into the facilities or the club.”

While the Steelers scored first in Wednesday’s game, the Ravens took a 7-6 lead late in the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards (Pittsburgh kicker Chris Boswell missed the extra point after the Steelers’ opening touchdown).

The Steelers stormed back to take a 19-7 lead into the game’s final minutes. Baltimore had started former Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, who scrambled for meaningful yards occasionally but left the game after completing 7 of 12 passes for only 33 yards with one interception. He was replaced by Trace McSorley, who heaved a 70-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marquise Brown with a little less than three minutes remaining in the game. But the Steelers successfully ran out the clock after the Ravens’ score.

Wearing a mask throughout his news conference, Harbaugh thanked his team.

“They fought through this really unique deal,” he said. “They didn’t blink.”

With a slight shake of his head, Harbaugh added: “This is a crazy year in a lot of ways.”

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